Overexposed on social Web sites

Posted March 21, 2010, at 7:35 p.m.

Q. I got into some trouble with the law, and my husband filed for divorce. A lawyer told me to stop using Facebook immediately and to delete my account. He said that I should do this with my MySpace account and to stop using Twitter, too. This is how I keep in touch with my friends, and it seems awfully drastic. Is he right?

A. Most of us who use social networking sites use them to keep in touch with our friends and family and don’t think about the consequences of our status updates being used against us in court. It can happen.

You have two possible problems. If you have criminal charges pending against you, the worst case scenario might be that the prosecutor could ask Facebook, MySpace or any other social networking sites that you use for all of your private records, and they could wind up as evidence against you in the court if you posted some-thing about your case. Unfortunately, deleting these accounts may not be an option. It could result in an additional charge — destroying evidence. So it would be wise not to touch them again without consulting a criminal attorney.

Problem two — your husband — may be easier to address. Your husband cannot easily get your posts from your social networking sites if you used the security settings on each site to restrict who can see your information. However, if you didn’t set up these privacy boundaries — or if one of your friends is more sympathetic to him than to you — he might have access enough to find out information he can use against you. If they are public for the world to see, then he can even print them out and use them in your divorce case.

Remember, nothing that you post on the Internet anywhere is a secret. If you do want to use social networking sites, make sure to check your privacy settings so that only the people you want to see your posts are the ones who can see them. With the situation you describe, however, the safest thing is to stop using all these accounts immediately. Then discuss them in detail with an attorney who practices both family and criminal law. Many attorneys do one but not the other. Your best bet for finding someone who does both would be to contact the Lawyer Referral & Information Service, as it can put in multiple criteria for a lawyer search.

So the final answer is, as inconvenient as it may be, that lawyer was right. First, stop using all those potentially leaky communications programs. Then find out if you can safely and legally delete accounts. If you can, do.

This column is a service of the Lawyer Referral and Information Service of the Maine State Bar Association. Its contents are a general response to the question and do not constitute legal advice. Questions are welcome. E-mail AAL@mainebar.org, describe your question and note you are a BDN reader. Written questions mailed to “Ask a Lawyer,” Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329 will be forwarded to the LRIS.

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